SARKAR RAJ

NR
Reviews

The Godfather Part III as directed by a Steven Soderbergh parodist, this sequel to the 2005 Indian crime-lord epic Sarkar is a crime in itself. Puffed-up and overblown, stilted and declaiming, with almost satirically bombastic music that underscores every "dramatic moment" with three underlines—in red, with exclamation points—this all-star concoction is as muddy as the Ganges and nowhere near as holy. Unless, of course, you're talking plot-holey. Sarkar Raj--essentially translated as "Overlord's Rule"—does strive for a seriousness that precludes having the musical numbers of standard Bollywood fare, but hey, the road to reincarnation is paved with good intentions.

Venerable subcontinental superstar Amitabh Bachchan reprises his role as Subhash Negre, patriarch of a family that controls the Indian state Maharashtra—the country's most developed and urbanized and home to Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India's largest city. His son Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh's real-life son, himself an Indian film star) takes on the college-educated, business-suited, Michael Corelone role, trying to turn the family's power and influence to honest and beneficial use. When the beguiling Anita Rajan (Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, Miss World 1994 and Abhishek Bachchan's wife) comes to the Nagres to propose a $2 billion power plant to be built by her London mogul father (Victor Banerjee), Shankar sees his legacy before him. But like America's own once-controversial Tennessee Valley Authority, the 1930s multi-dam project that displaced 15,000 people, Rajan needs to evacuate 40,000 residents from five villages in order to build.

Subhash, after securing the blessing of his aged mentor, Rao Saab (Dilip Prabhavalkar), gives Shankar the go-ahead to try to convince the villagers in their mud-street hamlets that the plant will provide much-needed electricity. But Saab's firebrand grandson, Sanjay Somji (Rajesh Shringarpore, made up to resemble real-life Maharashtra populist Bal Thackeray), begins inciting riots by asking, reasonably enough, for guarantees that the evacuees will be adequately recompensed and that the electricity won't bypass them and only serve city folk. Unfortunately, the movie never bothers to actually let the idealistic Shankar confirm any of this, so the audience sympathy tilts over to Somji—the first volley in a series of backfires that self-sabotage the filmmakers. Other shots-in-the-foot include such shoehorned scenes as the car-bomb killing of Shankar's wife, just moments after she broke the news she was two months pregnant—and such a straw dog that days later, the supposedly broken-up Shankar is gazing longingly at and holding hands with Anita.

What passes for dramatic acting in Bollywood too often means long…meaningful…pauses…in…close-up…with a single streak of tear. Imagine over two hours of this, interspersed with ridiculous set-pieces—three unarmed guys rescue a kidnap victim from a well-guarded compound using only a shovel—plus a Godfather-ripoff series of revenge killings, and a climactic rabbit-out-of-a-hat, convoluted conspiracy explanation that's half Agatha Christie, half Scooby-Doo. Maybe the filmmakers would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for them nosy critics!